The following article appears in the upcoming The Hundreds Magazine Spring/Summer 2015. Peep 2SHAE’s striking work on the “RAT RACE” graphic from The Hundreds’ Spring 2015 at the end of the piece.
Chris May AKA 2SHAE is one of those people that makes you feel really un-chill. I mean, I don’t smoke pot because it gives me heart flutters and makes me think that all of my friends are silently plotting to remove my kidney[s]. I speak fast because my brain moves at a million frames per second (mostly porn and cartoons). I wash my hands like fifty times per day because I’m worried that I have Zach and Johnny on me. I ask my girl to feel my lymph node because I’m concerned it’s groin cancer.
2SHAE doesn’t do those things. After facing real-world problems – not the first world kind – he remains with an admirable calmness. In anticipation of an unannounced project with The Hundreds, I caught up with Chris to get the scoop on his time on Pimp My Ride and West Coast Customs, his five-year stint in prison, his residency at The Seventh Letter, and the WAR videos that nearly sent him back into the system. When Chris says, “Art saved my life,” he means it.
MAC SANDEFUR: You don’t have a whole lot of interviews out there.
2SHAE: Fuck no, I don’t really – at West Coast Customs we were all, for almost ten years, kept out of the main bubble. He wanted the limelight, which is more – imagine you own a company and you realize that your personality is dead as this [knocks on table]. But all the people around you are crazy and running around so MTV wants nothing to do with you, they want these guys as energy.
After years of learning that, he kept us in corners and now if you watch any of his new shows, it’s him. And you might talk to us every now and then – I don’t even know if you know what I’m talking about, which is West Coast Customs.
Absolutely. Are you talking about the CEO?
Yeah. That’s what I mean; Ryan [Friedlinghaus]. So what it did was it took away from a lot of our careers unless you sit out. So they say, “West Coast Customs is artwork.” You go to Best Buy, you go to Pep Boys right now and everything is covered in black and white, and my art. It doesn’t say anything about my name, so all you know about anything that comes through – I had big rigs, vans, their whole shop is wrapped in my artwork, and not one time are they allowed [to] – or did he – promote my name.
Was I getting paid a shit load of money, and was I perfectly happy? Yeah. But my name gained no ground. The name was only in our circle if you knew.
Damn, I thought it was –
Like I was hiding or something? Well also, because of graff there’s always been this weird thing. But I did do, in 2004 to 2005, seasons of Pimp My Ride under my real name. The reason being is because I had just done five years in prison and was kind of just like, “I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want people to know my real name, but I don’t want to put a fake name out there because what if 2SHAE gets big?”
Is that when you got out?
Of prison? No, I did from ’95 to the end of 2000.
Do you care to talk about that?
Yeah, I’m cool. I was 17 years old… [by] Manchester and La Cienega, kind of by that big donut, Big Randy’s Donut, it’s the split between Inglewood and Manchester. And there are just these gangs around there that go at it with each other, and I’m doing graff and just doing me, but I know all them, they’re all my buddies and shit like that. So, sooner or later you get from one of them. I ended up shooting somebody, so I ended up having to go to prison for five years, and I got 85% and I maxed out.
I thought when I got out I was fucked. I’ve seen so many people come back. I did five years, I saw everybody go and come back. I have two strikes, they’re like, “Dude, you’re done.”
Does that live over you at all?
My only nightmare is being with someone who did the crime or I just did the crime, and I’m getting away but I know in my head, “No one gets away. You’re going to go do time right now and you’re going to have to do the rest of your life, are you cool with that?” And I wake up in sweats. You can walk up to my lady and blow her brains out and I’d be like, “That was a crazy dream.” But that prison one woke me up.
That was the one time I really felt like I wasn’t in control of anything. 17 to 23, that’s puberty. That’s like military; I went to the army or something. And I’m not going to say it didn’t build structure, it didn’t build character, it didn’t help me to understand the world more, but it was definitely – you know.
But what was cool – and I’ll mention your name – Crow from Culver City because he was a very righteous old man who was ‘running the yard’ or whatever you want to call it. That dude loved me, he understood what I could be. And instead of being that dickhead who could turn me into a missile boy – running around and beating everyone and doing what I have to do – he made sure that I’m drawing, tattooing, getting ready. I met up with him when I got out, and everyone respected him in there.
So you did art in prison?
Yeah I did tattoo work. I’ve always told everyone – I even tried to hashtag it – that art saved my life no matter what. Imagine being a white south-sider – do you understand what a south-sider is?
No, I don’t.
A white guy running with the Mexicans, even though I’m not, “Hey, howdy doody,” looking, I’m still white. I don’t got red hair and freckles like, “Can I hang with you?” And my personality carries me to where it carries me. But the art for sure – when you’re in prison you need people. Just like when you’re starting a business, in there they want a guy that tattoos, the biggest guys on the yard, the guys who get all the dope or whatever, or the guys that get the drugs in, and I was the tat man.
You’re like golden in there, why would someone fuck you up? You’re going to ruin everybody’s tattoo work here. That’s kind of my interpretation of it, because I came out not really fearing it as much as people would say, “Ohh, I don’t wanna go back!” It wasn’t that bad. It sucked being away from my family, and it sucked being away from everything, but it put a lot of things into perspective.
And how did you get involved with West Coast Customs? Was that after you got out?
Yeah, when I got out they had a little spot in [Inglewood] right by my shop, and one of my boys from WAI used to sell herb over there. So he would take me over there, and I would just be in the car with him, and I would just like to trip out on the cars and stuff. And then he wanted graff, he wanted the whole shop painted graff. So I just aggressively took that job over, and I just brought everybody in and we painted the shop.
One of the funny stories, my homie got in a car accident, told the owner of West Coast Customs, “If you fix my car I will do tons of artwork for you.” Burned him, my homie burned in. So I’m like, “Fuck, I feel so bad because I feel like they’re going to take the whole West Coast from us.” So I gave him – was drawing at home – this West Coast Customs logo, their official logo, I gave that to them for free. Not knowing what it was ever going to become, bro. I just drew it — I drew two of them, the other one is a graffiti tag saying West Coast Customs going down – and I gave them to him as a peace treaty. Saying, “I wasn’t part of that deal,” because I didn’t want him to say, “Oh, they burned me. Fuck them all.” I want him to know, “I didn’t burn you dude. I like this, I’m down to work for you.”
How did you end up on the TV show?
That was kind of funny. I’m painting the new West Coast, doing graff, and they had a previous guy who was a painter and he was kind of weird. He had long scraggly hair, he just looked weird. They just took who was already working there. So, I’m painting a wall, and the producer comes up to me and asks if I want to do the show. And I was like, “Well, what about Aaron? He’s the car painter guy.” They don’t like him on camera, they say he’s a piece of shit, he doesn’t look right, and blah, blah, blah. And it just showed me how gnarly it was, and this was all behind the dude’s back.
One funny thing about this is what they were trying to pitch to me first was, “You look like you’re perfect MTV material, but you don’t know how to paint cars.” And I was like, “I know.” They were like, “We’re going to have a guy, your size and weight, paint the cars and then you’ll come out and be like, ‘phew that was hard.’”
“Fuck no, I’m doing none of that.” I told them straight up, “I won’t do that, I’m not going to do that. If you’re not going to teach me how to paint cars so that if I’m in a bar with another car painter and he was drunk and went ‘how much reducer do you mix in when you use those candy reds and stuff?’” and I go, “What the fuck are you talking about?” That’s basic car talk and he lays me out? I don’t wanna feel like that.
So they brought this guy in from Valspar who paints fucking airplanes. And I just did this crash course fucking gnarly thing. And because I’m an artist I’m not stupid dude, I can pick up mediums, I understand tape off, it’s just that car painting is procedure before art. It’s very technical, layering and doing all these things, it’s just like tattooing in a way.
Once I signed on, all these things came into my mind, “What name am I gonna use? What am I gonna do? I’m exposing my face on TV.” But we got paid really well, which I’m not supposed to talk about, and we got bonuses every eight episodes.
Were you in those round-table meetings?
Yeah, your name would be on a piece of paper, and you would look at it and it would be the conversation, and you’d be like, “Are you serious dude?” And you would tell them, “I don’t want to say this. I’m not going to say, ‘you know what? I’m going to hook this up and it’s going to be smoking hot,’” or something.
That sounds so familiar.
They did it to everybody! They’d be like, “I hope you like your engine, it’s gonna be nuts!” And then he’d throw some nuts in the air. They were so fucking weird, but here’s their catch, this is how they’d do it. “We have to do one of these takes, we have to in order to show our producer, and then he’ll see how dumb it is. So you can do your own now too, do whatever you think you should do.”
And then they never published it?
They never put what we wanted to put on it. But you wouldn’t know until three or four months later when you saw it on TV and you’re like, “They used that one?” Everyone would be mad, it was in the Sunday Stew. Remember when MTV was cracking? Bam just came out, Jackass – I think it was Andy Milonakis – it was just a cool little section and we were part of that.
So Monday everyone had just seen the show and they were pissed. Because you’d be making fun of them, “Hey, how’s your job today? Is it going to be on fire?” It was good and bad.
Is it weird seeing yourself on camera?
My one that everyone made fun of – there was a car that we were going to paint Purple and Blue and it was called “Burple.”
Are you still affiliated with West Coast Customs at all?
Me and the boss, he was a good dude. He actually was like a father figure to me in a way because of my Pops being a piece of shit, he was very – we’ve had some emotional cool ass moments, I love that dude, but he’s crazy.
Yes I am, I still sell them graphics. Everything is freelance. I can no longer receive payroll checks from there, I can no longer have an office on the grounds, other legal shit. We had got in trouble for some graffiti thing that we did – or that other people did and that I got tied into. That pretty much was the last straw because we just hired this lady from Hot Wheels to help remake our shop more professionally. She came from Ford, Shelby –
But yeah, the main reason is him having enough of it. He let me run wild for ten years, I’d take Bentleys, I’d take Ferraris, I’ve done everything you could think of in that shop. It’s funny sometimes and sometimes it’s not. He let me run wild at the DUB shows, letting me do whatever I wanted to do, stay at the best hotels – it was just cool; he was a cool cat.
Besides those War videos that basically ruined it, I would still be working there right now, and I’ll always be affiliated. He comes to my art shows.’
Yeah they were these graffiti videos called War, they were a fuck-around video. A video that we decided to make because we had so much footage. So we put a video together. We happened to know this guy who followed someone from World Industries, he used to follow him around skating, so we had tons of skating footage. Jackass just came out, it was just a video we made.
The best one – if you can find footage from War Graffiti ’01 I’m fucking in that. Because WAI was my crew, and my homeboy Kennan ended up being part of TKO, which was another tag crew, and for some reason we didn’t really get along; just the crews, not me and him. So when my homie PLEK refused to work with any of those dudes to do the editing anymore, he had to go get another editor. And then I was like, “I don’t want to be the only one over there, you know what? I make my own money, you guys can have this.” So the first videos have all of us and my homies more in it, and the next ones are TKO propaganda videos. They’re pretty much pushing one crew.
We promised in our videos to give everybody light; if we hate you, you’ll still be in the video.
Just so that they’ll buy it. Because let’s say I put up a graff video – the War graff video is supposed to be the best Los Angeles street video ever, but I don’t put Ralos in it. That means I’m hating on him, and I’m not hating on him – I just want to kill him. I don’t hate on him because he doesn’t bomb the city, because he does.
And the videos pissed a lot of people off?
Yeah, the first one was fine, no one cared, but the first one being so good we started getting footage. So we got footage one time of a guy in a car getting fucking duct taped, the shit beaten out if him, it was like a murder scene pretty much.
Whoa, who sent you that?
It was anonymous. We got things of fools just destroying property, kids laughing while they’re burning down pads in the middle of nowhere, or lighting giant fields on with bandanas going, “War mother fuckers!” to be on the video. And it just got out of hand.
It ended up hitting in the West Coast Custom door and everything. I still have the paperwork on the back of [my laptop] from when I got it back from them after they took all the information out of it. It cost my job and I didn’t really have anything to do with – well, guilty by association. So, you know what you’re getting yourself into.
How did you get your start in art?
As a child, I’d be in the back of class drawing. They’d let me do that because they realized it was a little different than the rest. I did go to a magnet school, I always knew I was an artist. I guess being a teenager and being a fuck-up pulled me away for so long that I didn’t really give it my all, but I don’t know. I’ve always done art.
Graff art when I was 11. I remember seeing some guy that I hung out with, he pulled out of his bag and wrote on Lucky’s – on the side of it. You remember Lucky’s? It was a super market and it turned into Albertson’s. he wrote on the side of Lucky’s and when I saw it I remembered seeing it so many places. I was like, “What is that? What are you doing?” And then that clicked into me like, “Oh, that scribble is him everywhere.” And something about that intrigued me.
So I got Subway Art, the book, and just went through it and just started loving graff and just started tagging with the kids around my neighborhood and just doing bullshit like that. After that, I was totally intrigued by it. And I knew with my art I can do some of those things better. Put it like this, I tag better than him in two days, I already understood things, I understood letter thicknesses and skinninesses.
So this guy named Big Five, who went to my high school – he still tags to this day he’s a badass artist – he helped me with my lettering and brought me into this crew called TCS, which is an old school crew off of TBS. I was 14 years old, 9th grade, hanging out with these guys Crash, Skate – before he passed – Anger, Axis, all these OG nuts that I looked up to. But, I’m really very small, I’m real young, it’s a trip to me.
I just kept going, I ended up running into this guy named PLEK, who was starting a crew called WAI, and there was no one really from there. And I was like, “Dude, I would really love to be part of an originator of a badass crew.” So meeting up with PLEK at 15, that’s my best friend since then, and we just brought and created the WAI graff part of art.
And we were artists so we were constantly going at it with each other to make each other better. If he drew something better than me one day, you bet I come up with a better idea. That’s why I always say if you hang around with nine broke motherfuckers you’ll be the tenth. Being around 10 psychotic artists, you’re going to be a psychotic artist. It might not be as easy but you’re going to pick it up.
And you went to art school?
I went to the Laguna College of Art and Design for animation and in the middle of animation it got weird. I was stuck in there and these people were – it just wasn’t my crowd, I could tell. And I had a really cool teacher that told me, “You’re not going to want to sit in a cubicle, I can tell. You’re not going to want to sit in a cubicle and redraw, redraw, redraw for hours because that just doesn’t seem like that’s you.” And I don’t know, I’m young and it clicked.
And I switched my majors to be an illustrator and my professor taught me layouts, putting things, breaking boundaries. Soon, I started realizing that I was standing out in the class. Then at the same time Pimp My Ride was going down, so on that junior year is when they asked me to do the show. So it was the show or the school, and I’m broke. [laughs] And this fool, Ryan, really literally told me, “I will give you a job for the rest of your life if you leave right now.”
From that day until the raid – and the only reason that I understand the raid is because they were doing bad and they knew we need help. That lady from Hot Wheels was going to help, and she has, but she did operation clean house. [laughs] I was under the broom. Any hood fool or anyone that Ryan thought was cool – the graffiti stuff or having the Mongols in the front as bodyguards – all that shit was gone.
I can only imagine what West Coast is going to do now because they don’t have a graphic dude and they’re moving to Burbank. Justin Bieber bought half of West Coast Customs. It’s going to be like pure celebrity cars, it’s going to be Bieber.
The 2SHAE-drawn “RATRACE” graphic from The Hundreds Spring 2015.